Rafah, the Gaza Strip, March 3 — Israeli officials said today that they finished their military operation in the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli attacks continue, and we fear that Israel is still planning a major invasion. On February 29th, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai warned of “a bigger holocaust” for Palestinians.
From February 27th – March 2nd, the Israeli army killed around 110 Palestinians in Gaza, about half of them civilians, and nearly a quarter children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. Hundreds were injured. Palestinians killed two Israeli soldiers and one Israeli civilian.
What is happening in Gaza hurts all Palestinians, not just Hamas. Before this assault, the Gaza Strip, with 1.5 million residents, was already like a prison under siege, with dwindling supplies of food, medicine, fuel, clean water and electricity, and growing poverty. Many families eat just one meal a day. We have no electricity for 6-12 hours daily.
On March 1st, I was home with my family in the city of Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, watching TV to see what was happening in northern Gaza. Around 10 PM we suddenly heard Israeli F16 fighter planes overhead. I said to my mom, something is going to happen. The sound of the F16s grew louder. Then we heard very loud rocket explosions.
My sister ran crying, saying, it’s close. My mom was cut in the hand trying to prevent glass from hitting her head. Many of our windows were broken. We ran outside because the electricity went off. My father said it’s safer in the street. At least we can see where the rockets are going and where to go.
Four Israeli rockets hit the mosque 150 meters away, killing six civilians and injuring 30. One of those killed was my 30-year-old cousin Samer. Samer, a policeman with Fateh’s Palestinian Authority, was married with a young daughter.
The latest Israeli attacks began on February 27th when Israel assassinated five Palestinian fighters in Gaza. Palestinian fighters responded by firing rockets into Israel, killing an Israeli teacher in Sderot. Israel fired more rockets, and invaded.
Most deaths were in northern Gaza. When I visited there on February 29th, a mother from Beit Lahia explained what happened the day before: “My sons went to the playground to play football, and I said to myself they will be safe.” She completed the story crying, “But they weren’t safe anywhere. One of them was killed and the second was injured.” I began to cry also as she asked, “My son, why have you left me?” Twelve-year-old Omar Dardona died immediately, and eight-year-old Ali Dardona died on March 1st.
Another woman there told me: “I didn’t believe there were tanks in the neighborhood, and I looked through the door’s peephole, and there really were. I didn’t know what to do. I saw on TV yesterday eight children were killed, and I was thinking of my children. My husband climbed over our house wall and I passed the kids one by one to their father. They crossed the street and reached their grandfather’s house safely.”
Some Palestinians see shooting rockets into Israel as the only way to respond to continued Israeli attacks that have killed so many civilians and children, the only way to protest with a loud voice. Israel besieged Gaza after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January, 2006, and killed 823 Gazans in 2006 and 2007, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Hamas has repeatedly offered a truce, but the Israeli government has rejected those offers. Fourteen Israelis have been killed by rockets from Gaza since 2000.
It seems like the world knows that Israelis in Sderot are scared because of rockets from Gaza, but they don’t see what the Israeli army is doing. I feel sometimes like people in Gaza are in a different world.
The Israeli army bulldozed and destroyed our family home in 2004. In 2006 they bombed a house 40 meters from where we were living. Saturday night they could have hit our house. I fight hard to keep hate from my heart, but I get scared sometimes that it will overcome my resistance. I hope that I can continue to win this struggle.
Violence and death bring more violence and death. Hope brings more hope. Despite everything, children in Rafah tell me they hope to play, have fun, travel, and meet Egyptian children. It is these children’s dreams that renew my spirit.
Fida Qishta, an educator and journalist, is the founder and manager of the Lifemakers Center, which serves 70 children aged 6-18 in Rafah.
This essay first appeared on the Web site of the Institute for Middle East Understanding.